Monkey experiment reveals key to a brain that could be useful for space travel

For humans to always be out among the stars, we’re going to have to solve some huge logistical problems.

Not least of which is the travel time involved. Space is so big, and human technology so limited, that the time it takes to travel to another star is a huge barrier.

For example, it would take the Voyager 1 probe 73,000 years to reach Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun, at its current speed.

Voyager was launched more than 40 years ago, and modern spacecraft are expected to move faster; However, the journey would take thousands of years with our current technology.

One potential solution is generation ships, which would see multiple generations of space travelers live and die before reaching the final destination. Another would be artificial hibernation, if it could be implemented successfully.

This is what scientists from the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology (SIAT) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have begun; Not in humans, but in monkeys, by chemically causing a state of hypothermia.

“Here, we show that activation of a subpopulation of neurons in the preoptic area (POA) by a chemogenetic strategy reliably induces hypothermia in anesthetized and freely moving macaques,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

“Altogether, our findings demonstrate the central regulation of body temperature in primates and pave the way for future application in clinical practice.”

Hibernation and its lesser comatose state, hibernation, are physiological states that allow animals to withstand adverse conditions, such as extreme cold and low oxygen.

Body temperature drops, and metabolism slows to a crawl, keeping the body in ‘preserve bone’ mode – the bare minimum for survival while preventing atrophy.

This can be found in many animals, including warm-blooded mammals, but very few primates. Neuroscientists Wang Hong and Dai Ji of SIAT wanted to see if they could induce a hypometabolic state, or even hibernation, in primates by chemically manipulating neurons in the hypothalamus responsible for sleep and thermoregulatory processes—preoperative neurons.

The research was carried out on three male monkeys that ate crabs (Macaque footnote). In both narcotic and non-narcotic conditions, the researchers applied drugs designed to activate specific altered receptors in the brain, known as Designer Receptors Activated Exclusively by Designer Drugs, or DREADDs.

The scientists then studied the results using functional magnetic resonance imaging, behavioral changes, and physiological and biochemical changes.

Illustration showing the role preoperative neurons play in hypothermia. (Seat)

“To investigate the brain-level network as a result of preoperative area (POA) activation, we performed fMRI scans and identified multiple regions involved in thermoregulation and internalization,” says Day.

“This is the first fMRI study to investigate brain-level functional connections revealed by chemical activation.”

The researchers found that a synthetic drug called Clozapine N-oxide (CNO) reliably caused hypothermia in both anesthetized and alert states in macaques.

However, in anesthetized monkeys, CNO-induced hypothermia resulted in a decrease in core body temperature, which prevented external heating. The researchers say this illustrates the critical role that POA neurons play in key thermoregulation.

The researchers recorded behavioral changes in the awake monkeys and compared them to those of hypothermic mice. Normally, mice reduce their activity, and their heart rate drops in an effort to conserve heat.

By contrast, the monkeys showed an increase in heart rate and activity level and, in addition, began to shiver. This indicates that thermoregulation in primates is more complex than in mice. Hibernation in humans (if it is possible at all) would need to take this into account.

“This work provides the first successful demonstration of hypothermia in a primate based on manipulation of target neurons,” says Wang.

“With the growing passion for human spaceflight, this hypothermic monkey model is a significant milestone on the long road toward artificial hibernation.”

Research published in innovation.

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